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  • Writer's pictureKaren L


As I watch yet another video from Ukraine, I think about these horrible images reminiscent of the past. When will they ever learn? comes to mind from the folk song, Where Have All the Flowers Gone. Innocently, I sang that song in the 1970’s during the Vietnam war protests. How simple life seemed--say “no” to war and stop the bombing in Cambodia, etc. Of course, that war was misguided and prolonged.

Ironically, I am reading a book, The Shadow King, about the second invasion of Ethiopia by the Italians in 1935, yet another brutal invasion, a footnote in history. Like the Ukrainians, the Ethiopians attempted to defend their land and rightly so. Hopefully, the Ukrainians will be more successful. The women bravely took up arms in both conflicts. The gun is transformed into a symbol of hope, pride, and courage.

How can I, an active gun control advocate, write—let alone think--such a thought? Why do warriors of both genders in the fight for justice seem brave when they take up arms and fight? As shuddering and disgusting it seems to support violence in the name of freedom and vanquishing evil, I do. How can I be such a hypocrite?

Of course, war should be prevented by nonviolent means, such as negotiation and be the last resort. However, as history and the present depict for us in graphic images, physical conflict often becomes a necessity, precisely when freedom is threatened. Not that war should be prolonged for the sake of the military or industry that profits from the production of the materiel.

I believe these graphic images need to be shown everywhere and to everyone. How else to avoid armed conflict? When we protect people from the truth, we prolong the life span of lies. Children should not be protected either (with adult guidance). Better to have nightmares than to grow up to condone violence or be ignorant of what war entails. Certainly, kids play video games which are more vivid than the graphic pictures on our phones and televisions.

Strange to see the familiar pits in the Ukraine with bodies lying within. I immediately travel back in time to the horrific period when Jews were piled in trenches in the same geographical areas. Weird, now Ukrainian and Jewish blood and bones will mix. Though, I am not one of the Jews who were ambivalent about supporting Ukrainians.

I had the privilege to travel to Poland and Lviv, Ukraine in 2019. I met individuals of different ages who devoted their lives to repenting the sins and righting the wrongs of their ancestors. Christian Poles and Ukrainians establish memorials and museums to show the crimes of World War II, primarily against the Jews (but other victims, as well). Polish and Ukrainians write plays, novels, and newsletters for this purpose.

It is not only Europe but Asia which brought the brutality of war into our homes. The war in Vietnam supplied us with horrendous film and photographs of the consequences of combat. Iraq and Afghanistan followed along with Syria; undeniably there are others.

Yet, someone--an evil individual—somewhere--convinces his/her country or group of citizens to take up arms and kill. Concealed resentments spew forth and a cruel person builds on these fears to deceive followers. And they follow, committing horrendous crimes against humanity or storming government buildings as we witnessed in January 2021. Insecure, uninformed individuals lap up the proverbial kool aid, licking their lips. Of course, the hypothetical scenario simplifies reality.

What remains are dead bodies and traumatized families. Never will there be an absence of mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons suffering from stress related to loss and angry citizens taking up weapons to destroy perceived enemies.

I have thought, if there was a war, I would tell my son to leave the country, not fight. An episode of Foyle’s War, an excellent British television series, deals with conscientious objectors during World War II. These pacifists, who refused to fight, were assigned tasks related to the war effort rather than engage in combat. (The United States had a similar procedure during World War II and the Vietnam War.) The twist injected into the story involved a “conshy” willing to kill a criminal who stole rations but not an enemy of his country. This being TV, he immediately realized he was not a pacifist and shipped off to the front, shades of grey similar to the issues related to guns. I hate guns, knives, and bombs. I believe we need restrictions on gun ownership. Pacifism does not necessarily equate with cowardice. To fire a weapon in a just war is not evil but a battle for justice.

To be affected by world events results in dealing with complexity. There are no immediate, simple answers. I am unaware of a philosopher or political leader who has developed a successful strategy for avoiding all armed conflict between nations. Surely, President Zelensky is not recognized as a war monger, but his country was invaded and violated. A superpower strikes a small nation that has not provoked the larger country, except in the country’s desire to remain a democracy.

I will continue to sing Where Have All the Flowers Gone. However, as time passes, I realize that war, like other multifactorial situations, cannot be judged completely right or wrong in most cases.

Where have all the flowers gone? Long time passing. Where have all the flowers gone? Long time ago. Where have all the flowers gone? The girls have picked them every one. Oh, When will you ever learn? Oh, When will you ever learn?

Young girls They've taken husbands every one.

Young men They're all in uniform.

Soldiers They've gone to graveyards every one.

Graveyards They're covered with flowers every one.

Flowers Young girls have picked them every one.

Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: Peter Seeger

Where Have All the Flowers Gone lyrics © Concord Music Publishing LLC

© KarenLevi 2022

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